Active Obedience…My Story

I found myself a couple of years ago questioning this doctrine of Christ’s active obedience. The verse that really put things into perspective for me was this;

But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (Gal 3:12)

Here Paul quotes from the Old Testament and tells us that the one who does the law will live. Not that the person who does them is given life by the law, but that the law is powerless to take the obedient one’s life. The problem then with the law is not that it cannot reward, but that it cannot give righteousness. Paul in Romans says again very clearly that there is nothing wrong with the law, but the problem is with our sinful nature’s response to the law.

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Rom 7:10-13)

The point is this:
Those who deny Christ’s active obedience continually level the charge that the law cannot give righteousness. I agree. But it can reward righteousness. Therefore, Christ, who should have been rewarded (blessed) by the law, since He kept it perfectly, became accursed by the law so that we might be found blessed by the law, not in our own righteousness, but in Christ’s which He imputes to us.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

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10 Comments

Filed under justification, Theology, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Active Obedience…My Story

  1. Joe

    “not in our own righteousness, but in Christ’s which He imputes to us.”

    This, then, is the salient point.

    Thanks, Doxo.

  2. Daniel

    Our own righteousness (as opposed to Christ’s imputed righteousness) is proportional to our maturity as believers.

    Many naively equate spiritual maturity with biblical acumen – assuming that if someone has good doctrine that they are better Christians. But I would rather spend time with a believer who didn’t have their doctrine straight, yet was utterly obedient to the light they did have – than spend time with a believer who has all his ducks in a row, but doesn’t walk with God.

    Christ’s imputed righteousness justifies us before God – yet intimate fellowship with God is yoked entirely to our willingness to obey the Holy Spirit within. We have peace with God because we are in Christ, receiving the benefit of His righteous standing before God being imputed to us through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. That is our positional reality – but conditionally speaking, we must remain in the light to fellowship with God because even with Christ’s imputed righteousness accounted to us – God will not have fellowship with darkness.

    Thus, it is only those who walk in the light who have fellowship with God – or said another way, it is those who have learned to obey the Holy Spirit who have fellowship with God.

    Sometimes it happens that we blur the lines between imputed righteousness and genuine sanctification – resulting in us telling ourselves that we are in fellowship with God because we have deduced that we are supposed to be – even though our present experience patently denies this same fellowship. The result is our “fellowship” is an academic, and forensic declaration – and not something we actually experience – except in the case of positive suggestion – where we tell our selves that whatever state we happen to be in – this is what fellowship looks like.

    I agree therefore with your post – the law cannot give righteousness, it only reflects what righteousness looks like. We reap the reward of Christ’s righteousness in life – but if fail to walk with God’s Spirit, we will miss out on the reward of personal righteousness – that being fellowship with God Himself.

    Great post Jeremy!

  3. ================================
    Three things the issue IS NOT:

    1. It’s not a question of whether Christ obeyed the Law perfectly. Of course He did.

    2. It’s not a question of whether Christ imputed His righteousness to us. Of course He did. That’s Biblical Justification.

    3. It’s not a question of “denying Active Obedience”. Of course Christ “actively obeyed”.

    ===============================
    Three things the issue IS:

    1. Was it Christ’s OBEDIENCE that was imputed to us, or was it’s Christ’s RIGHTEOUSNESS that was imputed to us? The Bible clearly teaches that it was His RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    2. Did Christ ACHIEVE or GAIN or EARN or EVENTUALLY HAVE this righteousness to impute to us? No! He was always righteous. In eternity. In the womb. At birth. Throughout His life on earth. To say less is to dishonor Him.

    3. Then why is His Life of obedience, His perfect Active Obedience, so important? Because it DEMONSTRATES His righteousness, this righteousness that He always had, and that He imputed to us.

    Blessings,
    Terry

  4. Here’s another exegetical slant that may shed light:

    The Old Covenant sacrifice lamb needed to be “without blemish”. Only such were worthy to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.

    They had to be examined to SHOW that they were without blemish, right?

    Question: Was the little lamb without blemish BEFORE it was examined? Answer: Yes! It’s examination only SHOWED it to be so.

    Likewise, Jesus SHOWED Himself to be a worthy sacrifice by His life of obedience. But was He worthy BEFORE He showed it? The Scriptures say yes.

    So when you said in your previous post, Jeremy, “By meeting the requirements of that law, He is a worthy sacrifice…”, I would amend it to say, “By meeting the requirements of that law, He SHOWED Himself a worthy sacrifice.”

  5. Terry,

    Thanks for commenting. I’m going to be diving more in depth into these issues starting this evening, so don’t write me off yet.
    The point that I will continually make is this…
    The Law must be fulfilled in order for us to inherit whatever blessings it can give. This statement assumes that the Law can reward perfect obedience. I will try to show that Paul says as much in his letters.

    Looking forward to the debate!

  6. Mr. Eko

    Jeremy,

    I found your blog from the Riddleblog. I’ll be reading along as you discuss this issue. Thanks for the invitation.

    Mr. Eko

  7. Terry said: 2. Did Christ ACHIEVE or GAIN or EARN or EVENTUALLY HAVE this righteousness to impute to us? No! He was always righteous. In eternity. In the womb. At birth. Throughout His life on earth. To say less is to dishonor Him. 3. Then why is His Life of obedience, His perfect Active Obedience, so important? Because it DEMONSTRATES His righteousness, this righteousness that He always had, and that He imputed to us.

    I’m sure Jeremy will address this in the future, but I thought I’d at least jump in here and tell you how much I disagree with your denial of Christ’s active obdience/righteousness as the second Adam.

    In other words, of course Christ the third person of the Deity was always righteous, but of course Christ as the human being (fully human) had to live a perfect life according to the law in order to be declared righteous. He had to be baptized to ‘fulfill all righteousness’, He had to ‘learn obedience through what He suffered’, for ‘it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

    The foundational issue here is Christ being fully man. That’s why denying Christ’s active obedience is coming very close to denying the very essance of the Trinity. If Jesus is simply righteous as God, then He is an alien of some sort to us, being that He is of a completely different nature than us (and not a brother). God cannot impute righteousness to us from God to man, because we are of a different nature to Him. But Jesus is fully human as well; He is just like you and me except for without sin. But being fully human means that He isn’t automatically righteous in His being/nature. Jesus had to obey, as the 2nd Adam, the righteous requirement of the law for all of those in Him, before He completed perfect righteousness as a Man.

  8. Jeremy,

    I’m looking forward to your future posts on this. I’ve begun to interact a bit with Steve Lehrer over at IDS on this issue. You can see my initial comment to his latest post on this issue here:

    http://idsblog.org/?p=402

    It will be obvious from my comment what side I come down on =)

    Nathan,

    Like I said yesterday, I think you are right on with these comments. I appreciate your clarity.

    gh

  9. Re Nathan’s comments:

    Whenever it’s pointed out that Christ was ALWAYS righteous, both as God and as man, supporters of “Active Obedience Imputation” always construct straw men that they can easily blow down.

    I don’t mean that disrespectfully, to Nathan or anyone, but it gives evidence to me that the argument is not really made from Scripture at all, and that no one who only went to Scripture would EVER come up with such an idea as “Active Obedience Imputation”.

    In Nathan’s comments are the typical straw men that have little or nothing to do with my actual arguments from Scripture or reason:

    1. Nathan wrote, “…Christ as the human being (fully human) had to live a perfect life according to the law in order to be declared righteous.” I never said He didn’t. That’s a straw man. The point is that His perfect life is not what was imputed to us. What was imputed to us was His righteousness that He ALWAYS had, both as God and as man. His perfect life DEMONSTRATED the righteousness that He ALWAYS had, as God and as man.

    To put it another way, when He was born (as a baby man) was He in any way UNRIGHTEOUS? Of course not.

    [BTW, this brings up another often-used straw man, where it’s sarcastically proclaimed, “If we rejected Active Obedience, then Jesus could have just been born, crucified, buried, and raised as a baby!” This is such a foolish comment, it shouldn’t have to be answered, but it is so common, that it has to be answered. And the answer is, “That wouldn’t have fulfilled the purposes of God, which included DEMONSTRATING the righteousness of Christ, as both God and man. Simple really.]

    2. Nathan wrote, “He had to be baptized to ‘fulfill all righteousness’.” Another straw man, since I never said He didn’t. But the natural meaning of “fulfill all righteousness” is NOT that He had to GET or ATTAIN righteousness, but again, that He DEMONSTRATED the righteousness that He ALWAYS had, in this case by identifying with humanity and authenticating John’s prophetic ministry.

    3. Nathan wrote, “He had to ‘learn obedience’ through what He suffered.” Another straw man, since I agree 100% with that Scripture. But whatever that Scripture means, it surely DOESN’T mean that Jesus, as a baby, child or man, EVER was DISobedient. As the perfectly righteous Son of God and Son of Man, he could do nothing BUT obey.

    4. Nathan wrote regarding making the “…founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Another straw man, since I agree 100% with that Scripture. Whatever that verse means, it surely DOESN’T mean that Jesus, as a baby, child or man, was ever IMPERFECT in the moral, obedience, or righteousness sense.

    5. Nathan wrote, “The foundational issue here is Christ being fully man.” Another straw man, since I fully agree that He was (and is) fully man. I only press the point that He was a perfectly RIGHTEOUS man, from birth, and never UNRIGHTEOUS, even before He DEMONSTRATED His righteousness by His perfect obedience to the Law.

    [To show you how non-sola-scriptura, even silly, my opponents can get, I was not too long ago accused of being a Socinian because of my view. A Socinian is one who denies the DIVINITY of Christ, not His HUMANITY. I, of course, believe in both, but it was a convenient smear term to be used by an ignorant debater.]

    6. Nathan goes on about how Jesus was fully a man (this was the straw man I dealt with in #5 above), but applies that by saying, “That’s why denying Christ’s active obedience is coming very close to denying the very essence of the Trinity.”

    If all one has is straw men to use in debate, they often descend into “blowing smoke”, or “exhaling straw men” so fast that to point them out is like unraveling a ball of nightcrawlers.

    a. I never denied that Jesus was fully man. I have always affirmed that He is.
    b. I never denied Christ’s active obedience. I only point out from Scripture that He was ALWAYS righteous, and that it was His righteousness that was imputed to us, not His obedience. The Scripture never says otherwise.
    c. This has nothing to do with the Trinity. The Trinity was in place BEFORE Jesus was born as a fully-human man baby. Implying that I, in any way, deny the Trinity is “blowing smoke” in a way that wrongfully smears.

    7. Finally, Nathan wrote, “But being fully human means that He isn’t automatically righteous in His being/nature.”

    I simply consider that dishonoring to the Lamb of God, who was BORN the perfectly righteous Lamb of God, without spot or blemish (to use the Old Covenant illustration) even BEFORE He DEMONSTRATED that perfect righteousness by His Active Obedience.

    Bottom line: Jesus did “actively obey” all the Law perfectly. But it wasn’t His obedience that was imputed to us, it was His righteousness, which He always had, as God and Man.

    Blessings,
    Terry

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